How HR Can Use Screening Interviews to Hire Top Talent

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How HR Can Use Screening Interviews to Hire Top Talent

A screening interview is a preliminary stage of the hiring process that enables HR professionals to evaluate a large pool of candidates and determine if they possess the minimum requirements for the position. It is a crucial step in identifying top talent and saving time and resources by eliminating unsuitable candidates early on in the process.

Why screening interviews are important in the hiring process
What is a screening interview?
Types of screening interviews 
HR screening interview questions
How to conduct a successful screening interview

Why screening interviews are important in the hiring process

For almost two decades, Google was notorious for its rigorous and lengthy hiring process. Because it was Google, they got away with it, but the lengthy interview process still cost hundreds of thousands of valuable employee hours – something the tech giant eventually discovered was entirely unnecessary. 

In a blog post, Google’s global head of reporting and insights, Shannon Shaper, outlined how the organization shifted to a more streamlined approach, reducing the average time to hire by two weeks and creating a process that was highly beneficial for the company and its prospective employees.

Google was not alone in overcomplicating its hiring process. A study conducted by Robert Half revealed that if a candidate doesn’t receive any feedback within ten days of applying, about 66% of professionals lose interest in the position. This percentage jumps to 77% if there is no response after 15 days. If a candidate feels led on by the employer, they don’t just lose interest – they will take action, such as:

  • Drop out of the process without explanation (49%)
  • Refuse to consider the company for any future positions and blacklist it (41%)
  • Share their negative experience on social media (27%).

 A screening interview is an ideal way to value each candidate’s time while also reducing the time it takes to hire candidates and increasing the final talent pool evaluated for each position. 

The next section explains exactly what is a screening interview and how to conduct a successful one.

What is a screening interview?

A screening interview is a pre-interview recruitment tool that can be used to filter out unqualified or unsuitable candidates.

Typically, an HR and recruitment professional can use pre-screening interviews in the first round of the hiring process to determine if a job applicant’s expectations are aligned to the position they have applied for, whether they are qualified for a job, and if they suit the company culture at face value.

Pre-screening interviews can be held over the phone, via video, or through a questionnaire. Unlike actual job interviews, screening interviews are short and straightforward, typically concentrating on the candidate’s qualifications, experience, skills, availability, salary expectations and interest in the job. The purpose is to determine if the candidate meets the minimum requirements for the position and to assess their potential fit with the company culture and team before more extensive interviews and tests are conducted.

In contrast, during an actual interview, questions may be more behavioral or situational, designed to evaluate the candidate’s problem-solving skills, critical thinking ability, and communication skills. During this phase, a far greater focus will be placed on the candidate’s personality, work style, and values, as well as any questions the candidate may have about the job or the company.

As an HR professional, you should hold screening interviews to:

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  • Avoid investing time and effort in candidates who are not suitable for the role or organization
  • Identify if the candidate’s salary expectations fall within the salary range on offer
  • Identify the most qualified candidates 
  • Identify candidates who suite the company culture
  • Cut down the number of candidates whom managers and leadership teams must interview
  • Assess whether the candidate has the necessary qualifications and skills to effectively fulfill the requirements of the job
  • Evaluate the current job market and skills available.

HR pro tip

Screening interviews are an excellent way to distinguish your organization as an employer of choice because they show candidates that you value their time. In addition, if you identify an exceptional candidate who is not suited to the specific position currently on offer, you can still build a long-term relationship with them.

Types of screening interviews 

A screening interview can be conducted over the phone, via video chat, or in person, although in-person interviews should be a last resort. This is a short pre-interview and the goal is to evaluate candidates as quickly as possible to see whether they should enter the official interview process.

Let’s take a look at the various screening interview types and the best ways for HR professionals to conduct them.

1. A phone screening interview

Preliminary phone screening interviews are a great tool if you want to narrow down a list of candidates. They are a convenient, hassle-free way to conduct an interview with no interruptions, they take less time and they are often far less stressful for the candidates. 

However, phone interviews do have drawbacks. You can’t see the candidate and the absence of visual cues such as body language and gestures may be a disadvantage. The upfront ‘small’ talk that relaxes candidates will also be limited. Candidates who are nervous do not always answer all questions accurately. 

2. A video screening interview

There are two types of video screening interviews: the first is a real-time video interview using platforms like Zoom, Teams, Skype or Google Meets. Real-time online meetings allow HR professionals to visually observe the candidate’s body language and gestures during the interview. 

Online interviews are similar to in-person interviews and considered more formal than phone interviews. Remote working and sourcing candidates from wider geographical regions have also made both candidates and interviewers more familiar and comfortable with video interviews.

If time is an issue however, an alternative to in-person video interviews is a one-way pre-recorded interview, where candidates answer pre-determined questions on video and then send the video to the recruiter or HR professional. While video screening interviews can be helpful, they can come with potential challenges, such as a weak internet connection and technical issues that may impact the quality of the audio and video. However, these issues are far less prevalent today than they were a few years ago.

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3. A questionnaire screening interview

Questionnaires help HR professionals screen a large number of candidates without the need to speak to each person individually. All you need to do is provide each candidate with specific questions to evaluate their qualifications for the position and alignment to the company’s culture and values. 

The limitation of questionnaires is that they do not give HR professionals a first-hand impression of the candidate’s personality or how honestly they have answered the questions, as there is no direct interaction between interviewer and candidate.

4. A technical screening interview

A technical screening interview is similar to a questionnaire, however, it is used specifically to assess a candidate’s technical skills and knowledge in a particular field or industry. Sectors that would typically use a technical screening interview to assess candidates for a technical role include software developers, engineers, data scientists, and other related positions.

During a technical screening interview, HR professionals or a technical team member will typically ask the candidate a series of questions related specifically to their technical skills, experience, and knowledge. A candidate may even be asked to complete a coding or technical challenge. If you are an HR professional and not the technical expert, work with an expert in the field you are recruiting for to design a set of questions that will adequately screen the candidates.

HR screening interview questions

There are countless screening questions that HR professionals can ask during a pre-screening interview and these may change depending on whether you are conducting a phone interview, video interview or questionnaire or technical interview. 

The key is to keep your questions down to between 6 and ten questions – this is a pre-screening process. It is not the actual interview (or more importantly, the final interview). It should be a relatively quick process that effectively trims back your candidate pool so that more time can be spent with the most qualified candidates who are the best fit for the role and your organization.

HR pro tip

Reevaluate your pre-screening questions for each new role you are recruiting for:

  • Are the questions still relevant?
  • Is there a particular need, skill or value you are looking for in this role?
  • Have you learnt any lessons in previous screening interviews or processes that inform changes to your questions?

Ready to get started? Here are a few key questions to consider.

10 Screening Interview Questions for HR

Can you tell me about yourself?

Why ask it: This is the candidate’s opportunity to give you their ‘elevator pitch’. You can learn a lot about the candidate from what they choose to include, from what they believe the job entails, to the skills, experience and personality traits they most value. Asking a candidate to talk about themselves is also a good icebreaker. It eases them into the interview through a topic they are most familiar with – their own history and personality.

What to look out for: Pay attention to both the candidate’s experience and personality traits during the interview process. While their resume may cover most of the necessary information you’re looking for, this is a good opportunity to look for any red flags that show you their skills might not be aligned with the role, or their values might not suit the company culture or ways of working.

Why are you looking for a new job?

Why ask it: Asking a candidate why they’re looking for a new role can give you a good idea of what motivates them. This is also a good opportunity for them to explain any gaps in their work history.

What to look out for: A great candidate will be able to articulate how this position aligns with their career goals and what specific skills or experience they hope to acquire from the new role.

Why are you leaving your current role?

Why ask it: The reasons someone will leave a company can tell you a lot about how they work, how they like to be managed and their overall level of accountability.

What to look out for: A candidate who speaks negatively about their current or previous employers is a red flag that they may not be a right fit for the company. You cannot verify their claims and it can be worrying that a candidate is willing to speak poorly about a team member or employer they are still working with.

What do you know about the organization?

Why ask it: Set candidates up for success by first gaining an understanding of what they know about the organization and then providing them with a better understanding of the organization. This will help the candidate to understand the business context better and successfully answer the question, should it be posed in the interview.

What to look out for: This question not only reveals whether the candidate has any prior experience with the company but also indicates how willing they are to prepare for an interview – and therefore how serious they are about the position. If you notice any confusion around what the company does, it helps you to further explain the organization’s product or services so that the candidate has a better understanding.

What skills do you believe make you the best candidate for this role?

Why ask it: This may only be the initial pre-screening interview but keep your key objective top of mind – you want to trim back the candidate pool. Evaluating each candidate’s skill set, abilities and past work experiences can be extremely helpful in gauging how well they will carry out their responsibilities – or if they don’t have the right skills for the job.  

What to look out for: This is not a general question. The goal is to see whether the candidate shares specific details that clearly demonstrate they understand what the role entails, what will be required of them, and that they have the experience to deliver.

How did you learn about this position?

Why ask it: This is not a trick question. If the candidate reveals that the position was mentioned to them by an employee, you have an inside source who can give you extra insights into the candidate’s personality, values and work ethic.  

What to look out for: A bonus is that their response will also give you insights into how efficient and effective your recruitment methods are – particularly if they are not an ideal candidate and you need to refine your recruitment messaging.

How important is company culture to you?

Why ask it: After evaluating the candidate’s experience and personality traits relevant to the job, it’s important to explore how well they fit with the company culture. Ask about their ideal organizational culture and assess if their values are aligned with the company’s culture. You also want to look for candidates who are not only a good fit but excited to contribute to the existing culture. It’s a good idea to try and determine how they like to be managed as well, so a follow-up question could be what management style and ways of working they prefer.

What to look out for: Pay special attention to any language that reveals the candidate’s capacity to work with different people. For example, if they prefer working independently, but the job is team-based, they may not be the best fit. Similarly, if they have been successfully working remotely but your business expects people to be office based, they may not be happy long-term.

What salary range are you looking for?

Why ask it: If you did not advertise a salary range in your recruitment ads, this is potentially one of your most important pre-screening questions to ensure you are not wasting your time, the candidate’s time or the time of managers who will be involved further down the interview process. Negotiations are possible when there is alignment, but if their expectation is double the salary you are offering, you are unlikely to come to an agreement. Rather remove the candidate from consideration.

What to look out for: A candidate who is hesitant to share what they expect from the role may be waiting to hear what is on offer first. As an HR professional, you can choose how you want to handle the situation, just make sure you finish the interview knowing whether the salary range on offer meets expectations.

If hired, when can you start?

Why ask it: This is the most straightforward question of them all, but extremely important none the less. If the candidate is currently employed, how long is their resignation period? In some high-level positions, this could be as long as six to 12 weeks, or as little as two weeks.

What to look out for: A candidate who cannot give you a firm answer may be interviewing for multiple positions and trying to keep their options open. This is a simple question. It should receive a simple answer.

How to conduct a successful screening interview

1. Be prepared

Before the interview, review the candidate’s application and resume to familiarize yourself with their work experience and qualifications. Review your list of questions and evaluate if there is anything specific you would like to ask them based on the information you have on hand – keeping in mind that this is a screening interview only. Your goal is to assess their suitability for the role and fit with the company culture.

HR pro tip

If you are conducting a phone interview, make sure there is minimal (preferably no) background noise. You want your candidate to be as relaxed as possible. If there is too much distracting noise, they could become flustered. Where and how you conduct the interview is as important as what you ask, so factor this into your preparations.

2. Ask open-ended questions

 ‘Yes’ and ‘no’ answers do not give you insights into the candidate’s personality, skills and values. Instead, open-ended questions encourage candidates to give more detailed answers. Listen carefully to their responses and ask follow-up questions to clarify any uncertainties. 

Throughout the interview process, make sure you’re using consistent and fair interviewing techniques to evaluate candidates objectively – don’t use the process to push your favorite candidates to the top of the pile. Instead, make sure you are selecting the best fits for the position.

HR pro tip

Whether you are conducting a phone interview or a video call, have your questions in front of you and take notes. Let the candidate know you are taking notes – it shows them you are engaged and listening to them.

3. Keep it professional and respectful

While a pre-screening interview is not as formal as a full interview, it is still a professional exchange. Be respectful, courteous, and non-discriminatory in your approach. Treat the candidate with dignity and provide them with clear information about the position and the company. Remember, even if the candidate doesn’t fit the role, they may still be a future asset to the company, so it’s essential to leave a positive impression.

HR pro tip

If you are conducting a video interview, make sure you are in a quiet room with no distractions. Use a background filter and keep things as professional as possible. The candidate should have the same experience as if they were walking into a boardroom.

After the screening interview: What HR should do

After the screening interview, it’s time to select the most qualified candidates who fit the hiring criteria and culture:

  • Review any notes you took during the interview and, if applicable, share them with the hiring manager.
  • While it’s crucial to consider candidates who meet the education and experience requirements, pay close attention to any concerns that may have surfaced during the interview. For instance, if a candidate’s work preferences and management style differ from what the position entails, but they have the necessary hard skills, you may still consider them, but include your reservations in your notes so that they can be addressed in the next interview.
  • This is a good opportunity to conduct reference checks and background screenings.
  • Ensure you inform all candidates of their status, whether they have been selected for the next round or not. If they have not been selected, give them a reason why. They will share their interview and recruitment experiences with others, influencing how your brand is viewed in the market. Unsuccessful candidates will tend to speak well of brands of they feel respected, even if their applications were not successful.

Key takeaways

  • Save time: Prescreening ensures that managers, technical experts and leadership teams only interview candidates who are a good fit for the role and the organization, saving valuable time and resources.
  • Conduct better interviews: Screening interviews give initial insights that can be used to craft personalized questions for the next interview.
  • Differentiate as an employer of choice: Pre-screening saves your organization time, put is also respects a candidate’s time. The sooner they know they are (or are not) progressing in the process, the sooner they can focus their energy elsewhere.
  • Hire the best candidates: HR professionals who leverage pre-screening effectively present only the best candidates to hiring managers, give them the pick of an excellent pool of talent.
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